Bowman, James, The American Spectator
ACCUSTOMED AS I AM TO WRITING about the political cinema-and since Fahrenheit 9/11 it seems there is less and less of it that is not political-I am always amazed that people can't see propaganda in a work of fiction even when it is as obvious as it is in Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby. To me this is as crude a piece of propaganda on behalf of assisted suicide as it is possible to imagine. None of the characters looks even remotely like anyone from what we still call, in spite of TV's attempt to take it over completely, real life. All are designed solely for the purpose of getting poor Hilary Swank, playing essentially the same role she played in Boys Don't Cry, to such a fever pitch of the pathetic that we can't wait for Clint to put her (and us) out of her misery. And yet Clint and Hilary and their many apologists in the media are so insistent that the movie takes no position on assisted suicide that the Academy drowned it in Oscars just to disprove the evidence of the feeblest political radar that it is indeed propaganda.
There is no big mystery about why they would do that. Ever since the days of McCarthyism when movie people who were Communist Party members or sympathizers tried to pretend that they were harmless entertainers, the cultural left in America has been heavily invested in similar kinds of camouflage. In particular, any complaints about its steady process of erosion and undermining of traditional religious values is invariably presented by a compliant media as a figment of right-wing paranoia. I might even venture to say that the evisceration of American education over the past 40 years has been deliberately undertaken in order to rob those who pass through it of the critical sense necessary to spot such propaganda-except that that would sound too much like right-wing paranoia. Anyway, there are plenty of other cultural phenomena to explain why that happened. Don't get me started.
But, whatever the reason, American propaganda is undoubtedly the crudest, the most laughably obvious in the world. In Europe they did their own version of Million Dollar Baby, a Spanish movie by Alejandro Amenábar called Mar Adentro that came out at the same time and was such superior propaganda that it almost rose to the level of art. At least when Europeans are being brainwashed, they insist on its being done with a bit of style. Americans not only don't see (or pretend they don't see) propaganda when it pokes them in the eye, but they are also capable of seeing it where it doesn't exist. When this happens it seems somehow even more depressing, since it makes what would otherwise seem mere unthinking philistinism take on a more sinister and ideological cast.
For example, Mike Leigh's film, Vera Drake, another Oscar nominee (both for Mr. Leigh as Best Director and Imelda Staunton as Best Actress), was picked up by some as a choice bit of "pro-choice" propaganda. "We have to make sure that on our watch, the clock doesn't get turned back," as Jatrice M. Gaiter, leader of Planned Parenthood of Washington, D.C. was quoted in the New York Times as saying. "This is a wake-up movie, a wake-up of consciousness to the stark reality that faces us." No, Jatrice, if that in your real name, this is not a wake-up movie. It is a roll-over-and-go-back-to-sleep-and-dream-of-yesterday movie. Vera Drake almost miraculously cuts through decades of "wake-up" style propaganda to remind us, just for a moment, of a time when abortion was viewed with such horror, even by those who performed it, that its name could scarcely be mentioned.
Yet in vain was it for Mike Leigh to insist, in an interview with the Times reporter, that he had not intended his picture to be that kind of "abortion movie." On the contrary, he had wanted the audience "to consider the moral issue of abortion"-something which would seem to require as a minimum condition that the audience see both sides of the question. That is of course the one thing that propaganda can never do. …